Progress!

With the nine-day forecast indicating temps in the 50’sF and rain off and on, yesterday was perfect for moving the first plants from the greenhouse to the benches outside to begin hardening.  Unlike many folks who initially move plants outdoors on a sunny day to begin the hardening off process, I always choose a cloudy day.  It’s enough for those sheltered plants to accustom themselves to breeze and “real” light without having to deal with bright sun rays as well.  benchTwenty eight flats now fill the benches …896 plants.  I chose the perennials and low plants (feverfew, violas, onions, dwarf snaps, gaillardia, rudbeckia, blue salvia, hollyhocks, etc.) so if the wind does pick up, they won’t be whipped around.

Happily, that created space in the greenhouse, so more plants were moved from the basement (marigolds, more onions, cippollini) to refill it and now there’s room in the basement for more transplanting and seeding flats, which will be done when the rain begins and I can no longer work outdoors.  I’m too old to work in the rain anymore…

The Addition Garden has now been cleaned and tidied, as well as most of the Deck Garden.   The most apparent find in the process is that none of the snapdragons, gaillardia, blue salvia, or verbena bonariensis are alive.  I’ll have to dig out some saved verbena seed and get it going, and all those “extra” snapdragon and blue salvia seedlings that weren’t transplanted early on will now have to be potted.  I’m just glad I have them “in the wings.” There are a few rudbeckia that survived, but not as many as I’d like, as not as many seedlings growing on to replace them, so I’m hoping some will have self-seeded.  The low part of the Deck Garden is still too wet to get into, as is the Fairy Garden.  So, I moved to the potager’s interior borders.  This took longer than I expected because the timbers all along the entire south border had been pushed out. bad edge I really must do something about drainage, although I’m sure the freeze/thaw action also had something to do with it, especially since this side is the always the wettest.  Removing the timbers, digging out the “excess” soil and moving it higher up in the border took over an hour, but it certainly was worth it to get a tidy line again.  good edge (Sorry about taking the photo from one end, and then the second photo from the other…makes it confusing, doesn’t it?) There were lots of dandelions to dig out.  That is one of the problems with keeping the back lawn area around the potager “natural”.  Weeks often pass when we cannot get a mower back there due to soggy soil in the low areas, and it always seems to be just when the dandelions are beginning to “puff.”  I was surprised to see that many of them were already budded!

Sadly, the winter was extra hard, and no snapdragons, blue salvia, or feverfew have survived in the potager either.  This is the first time since the potager was created that at least some of them have not returned.  The borders certainly look empty, especially the south one, which only has a few daylilies, a small patch of lemon balm and chives so far.  In the west interior border I’m still waiting to see if the rhubarb survived.  The French tarragon definitely did not, nor any of the hollyhocks. nigella seedlings However, there are lots of nigella seedlings (above) and the true hyssop, anise hyssop and “Golden Jubilee” anise hyssop all show new growth. gold anise emerging  I love the distinctive colors of gold and purple in the tiny leaves of “Golden Jubilee” anise hyssop as they emerge from the old plants.  daylilies emerging  The daylilies throughout the potager’s borders seem okay but are only 1″ tall and none of the tulips planted there last fall have emerged in the south or west borders, however there are a few in the east border near the Lady Cottage, but that’s a tiny percentage of the number planted. chamomile seedlings with weeds There’s too much chamomile, which is a rampant self-seeder if not thoroughly harvested, so I’ll probably pot up some for the garden club plant sale.  This is just one of many patches, including the weeds, sticks and leaves that were removed after the photograph was taken.  Just wanted you to see how untidy it was!

It’s still early, and more things MIGHT pop up, and it’s probable that more self-seeded plants may appear, but I’ll think I’ll seed some extra calendula to help fill in the blank spaces…and extra vegetable plants can also be popped into the border if need be.  All in all, it’s been a pleasant couple of days tidying, and I’m thrilled to have been able to move plants outdoors.  Today it’s raining, so work in the Cutting and Fairy Gardens will be postponed.  Back to transplanting and seeding, and I think my muscles will rejoice at that!

 

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Posted in Garden lessons, Spring, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Catnip

Catnip  Whether or not a feline is a member of your family, catnip (Nepeta cataria) can be a valuable herb to add to your garden.  Its attractive gray-green foliage has slightly scalloped leaves, and is seldom bothered by insect or disease damage.  It’s an easy-to-grow perennial that will do well in full to partial sun and average to slightly moist soils.  The pretty pale pinkish-white flowers are born on sturdy stalks in abundance, and are enjoyed by many pollinators throughout a long, long blooming season.  At 3’ in height, it can be a lovely filler in mid-border, and makes a good filler in cut flower arrangements as well (if you do not have housecats!)  While sometimes a short-lived perennial, it will self-seed or can be easily propagated by divisions or cuttings, or grown from seed.

Traditionally, catnip like its fellow members of the mint family, has been used as a tea.  Known to be relaxing and calming, it was often given to fussy children or feisty adults.  However, it should be known that about 20% of the human population react the opposite after drinking the tea, and may become more restless or agitated.  My favorite catnip for tea is Lemon Catnip (Nepeta cataria var. citriodora) which has a distinctive lemon scent and flavor and can only be distinguished from regular catnip by those fragrant characteristics because visually, it appears the same.  It is also easy to grow from seed, but the seed is harder to find.

While most cats react to catnip’s essential oil (nepetalactone) with joy, chewing it, rolling in it, batting at imaginary toys, etc., a few may find it just annoying or dismiss it entirely.  The most susceptible to the drug effects are teenage boys, then teenage girls, followed by adult males.  Elderly female cats are sometimes little affected at all.  The common reaction to catnip is a burst of happy energy, followed by a long nap to recover.  We kept a catnip-filled cloth “mouse” in a plastic bag in our freezer.  Before we expected to be away, but while we were there to supervise and enjoy his antics, we’d give the “mouse” to our cat.  While we were gone, the cat would sleep serenely, never knowing his family was away.

 

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9th Seeding…No Fooling!

Potager in snow sun April Fools Day! Nothing foolish going on here at the potager however, just waiting for the weather to warm.  At least there is bright sunshine and temperatures above freezing so the snow is beginning to slide off the Lady Cottage roof and melt from the trees.  One of these days it will suddenly be SPRING, and I’ll be happy that I stuck to the normal scheduled 9th seeding.  The earliest seedings focused on perennials, next on the cold-hardy slowest-growing annual flowers, then all attention on the veg crops, and now with this 9th seeding it’s back to the flowers: annual dwarf zinnias  that go into the border fronts as soon as the weather settles on warmth and the spring bulbs are finished, a variety of nasturtiums, the thunbergia seeds finally purchased, and decorative purple basil.

viola pur & or mass  After the small “Hot Pak Orange” marigolds used to edge the potager’s borders were transplanted and counted, the number was short, so more were seeded today.  They will go along the two central paths, which begin with mini tulips, violas and sweet alyssum.   When the tulips are finished and it gets too hot for the violas, the marigolds replace them.

Melon Minn Midget 6-30-17 compressed  The first seeds of  Minnesota Midget melons were planted in pots, recognizing that it’s early and that they will need protection and special care.  They’ll go into the greenhouse soon, which gets nicely warmed on sunny days and up-potted as required.  The plan is to put the poly-tunnel that has been over the spinach all winter over a bed to warm the soil, and then to grow the first two melon plants there in that extra warmed environment.  They are a bush-type, so two plants will fit into a 3′ x 6′ bed nicely.  It’s an experiment to see if there can be melons much earlier than usual.  Minnesota Midgets are delicious, and ready in only 60 days after transplanting.  Normally, they go into the ground the middle of May and are ready mid-July.  I’m hoping for sometime in June!  The ones in the photo were from mid-August last year, a late planting that will be repeated again.

April 1st is also the day that dahlias stored over the winter are potted up and moved to the greenhouse.  There’s more than ever this year, with all those that were dug last autumn plus the big order placed during the winter doldrums.  See “Dallying with Dahlias.” 

Hopefully, the garden energy that has been focused on seed-starting and transplanting can soon be turned to outdoor work of direct seeding, mulching and edging the gardens and the important work of hardening off plants carefully.  April can be quite fickle with a mixture of warm days plummeting to frosts, so the potager’s furniture that has been stored in the Lady Cottage must be moved back outdoors to make room for the folded frost-protective sheeting that has been in the basement all winter.  Hopefully, it won’t be needed, but experience shows it will.  That’s it for seeding until mid-month, which is a long list!

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March in Review

march snow  The final day in March, a month entered with high hopes and big plans after a frigid January and a very dismal February.  The photo taken this morn says it all, “Not much progress.”  Let’s hope it’s the final snow for 2019 as well.  bench in snow  I ran out before breakfast to snap some photos.  The sun was just beginning to bring lovely pink, coral and gold tones to the distant trees, suggesting that it will be our EIGHTH sunny day this month, not a very high percentage.  Garlic is the only green poking out of the blanket of snow…

garlic in snow which has fallen so gently and remain undisturbed that it is able to stand thickly even on the thin wire of the pea fence.  pea fence in snow  The water that accumulates in the low spots of the “level” potager has frozen solid, creating black skating areas to be avoided (especially when out trudging about in pj’s and holding a camera!)  The winds that brought cold air and the snow angled the poor tree rose before filling its recently pruned top with snowflakes.  Tree rose in snow  I wonder how many snowflakes it took to do that…or to “bedazzle” all the chicken wire fence that surrounds the potager with balls of ice.bedazzled fence  The lavender slope was not looking very happy before this snow.  Too much rain and too little sunshine in the past three months to suite its cultural requirements.  It may look better today than it will after the snow melts.  lavender slope in snow  So, the final day of March is snow-covered, but appears that it will be sunny, so it may not last long.  It had rained in abundance several times recently, so the soil is super-saturated indicating that it will be several more days before any planting or gardening can be done.  And it will be interesting to see how the few things planted this month handle so much moisture and cold.  The peas were just beginning to sprout and may be okay.  There was no sign of the rhubarb, and I’m worried that it has rotted because normally it is up and growing before this.  The Italian dandelions that were listed as perennials rotted, their fleshy carrot-like roots were mush.  Fortunately, there were a few seeds left in the packet resulting in 5 plants recently transplanted in the basement.  The March total for transplants is 2,412, of which 1440 are snug in the greenhouse.march in gh  The total varieties seeded to date is 91, with the next seeding scheduled for April 1st.  Another 1/2 lb. of spinach was harvested from the poly-tunnel this month, with high hopes that additional menu items will be added in April, despite its reputation as being “the cruelest month.”  Farewell, March!

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8th Seeding & Welcoming blooms!

yel crocus  We must have brought the sunshine with us from Florida!  Our local weatherman announced that yesterday was the most sunshine Indiana has had since January 5th!!! And happily, the sunshine continues today.  Lots more of the “Cream Beauty” crocuses have emerged in the Front Garden to welcome us home.

Apparently while we were away, the weather here was dismal and overcast.  My thermometer registered the outside low at 23 degrees F, but inside the greenhouse the lowest was 49F, so the new heater is doing its job nicely.  There wasn’t much change in the greenhouse plants…maybe they are a bit stockier but not much taller than when I left.  However, the exciting news is that the very first viola has a bloom, which is always a thrill.  More flats were moved into the greenhouse today, which is getting nearly full already, thus creating space in the basement for the backed-up transplanting that didn’t happen while I was off soaking in the sunshine (no magic transplanting elves did it while I slept!)

There is now room for more seeding flats, too.  This round of seeding is what I call “hedging my bets” because it is basically seeding some cool weather crops in 4-packs:  lettuces, spinach, swiss chard, kohlrabi, kale, fennel and arugula, just in case the ones direct seeded with the first crocus don’t germinate well (or at all!)  If they do grow, these in 4-packs will be tucked into the potager’s interior border utilizing space that will gradually be filled as the perennials there expand to full size.  radicchio wintered  I had planned to seed some radicchio in 4 packs, but when I went to the potager to see if the peas had emerged (they haven’t) I found an entire row of it showing new growth!  That was exciting because it hasn’t happened in the past.  The red color is gorgeous!  Normally red is not encouraged in my gardens, but at this bleak stage, any color is warmly welcomed.

Gordon iris  And, outdoors lots of the “Gordon” mini irises are blooming in the Blue Garden.  They are getting so thick I think I must divide them after they finish blooming.  And finally, there are buds on one of the hellebores!  Maybe I’ll show a photo when it actually opens.  In the potager the chives have finally appeared  chives and the garlic is looking great.  garlic up  None of the shallots have green shoots yet, but several were laying on top of the ground, probably the work of squirrels.  A quick check showed that the shallot bulbs that were still in ground are putting out great root systems so there should be top growth soon, and all the exposed ones were replanted.  The spinach that wintered outdoors without any protection (shown below) actually has quite a lot of new growth and spinach out looks happier than the spinach in the poly tunnel, which without anyone here to open it during the “freak” sunshine suffered in too hot an environment.

Now, you are all caught up, as am I until the next round of seeding and the weather settles a bit more.  Transplanting total is at 2205, with lots of tomatoes and marigolds nearly ready for potting.  Hopefully I can begin hardening off plants soon, but there’s 4 days of rain and wind in the forecast, so not yet.  Crossing our fingers it isn’t snow! Thanks for reading!

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Seeking Sunshine

The frustration level rose again…cold temperatures, super soggy soil, ugly forecast and few signs of life in the gardens.  The only cure was a trip south, where warm temperatures abound and there are actually leaves on trees, blooming flowers, and SUNSHINE!  Course flowers  I’m fortunate that D loves golf as much as I love basketball.  He also recognizes after all these married decades that a dose of sunshine about this time of year radically reverses my downward spiral and makes living with me much more pleasant.  So, with a dear gardening friend willing to tend my baby plants in exchange for the use of my pick-up truck while we traveled, we were off to Palm Harbor, Florida (THE Sunshine State!) for the Valspar Golf Tournament.   This is just a sample of the many plantings throughout the course.Valspar flowers I can’t tell you how much the sight of blooming red roses and bright yellow marigolds, green grass, shaggy Spanish moss, and leafy trees lifted my spirits.  This tournament raises millions of dollars for local charities, and is sponsored by the Valspar Paint people.  You’ve probably seen their commercials where the talking chameleon changes color as he walks on various paint samples.   One of the centerpieces of the tournament is this huge sand sculpture of their “spokesperson.”  Chameleon  This has to be the most colorful golf tournament on the circuit, from the comfortable seating overlooking the 3rd green Valspar chairs and elsewhere throughout the course, to the stacked birdhouses shown below.Valspar birdhouses.  There was also a display of “TINY” houses, painted inside and out with luscious colors.  Here’s the tiny Beach House….decoratedTiny farmhouse inside in a breezy, seaside decor with lots of ambient light.  And the tiny farmhouse, which was my favorite,Tiny beach house painted in this year’s “Color of the Year,” a pretty shade of light green.  I especially enjoyed the landscaping around this cozy dwelling.  There was so much to see that I didn’t mind at all being there for four days of our trip because I walked and walked and walked!  Admittedly, the first day was a medium walk through only a small portion of the course, but some of it was uphill and that night, my whole body ached.  That did not bode well for the upcoming gardening season, so I was determined to get some muscles back in shape.   Fortunately, the colorful contrast to our landscape back home continually lured me ahead.  It was a joy to be in 70 plus degree weather and not bundled in bulky clothes for a change.Course water  The skies were so blue, the birds so full of song and there were birds we just don’t see in Indiana.    Florida birds  Whatever birds these were, they were fun to watch as they poked through the leaves and pine needles.Trumpet tree  This brilliant tree was breathtaking.  I was told it is a Trumpet Tree.  I wish it would grow in Indiana, but it won’t without more protection (like a giant greenhouse heated all winter!) than I’m willing to provide.  Florida 2019 020  The 16th green is called the “Patriots’ Outpost” and is sponsored by Chick Fil-A, who not only provides funding for the shaded pavilions, but free food and drink for veterans and military personnel.  A wonderful shuttle service makes it feasible for veterans to get there easily.  impatiens compressed  Each day’s walk was longer, providing new vistas and more flowers.  By the last day, I was able to walk the entire course without stopping, and came home feeling refreshed, relaxed, renewed and eager to see what changes were wrought in my gardens while I was away.  It’s amazing what a few days of sunshine can do!

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Violets: An Herb To Know

WSY0041315  It may be hard to believe, looking out the window at endless white snow, or long stretches of beige lawn and bare trees, but soon the grass will be green and flowers will begin to bloom.  If you are among the wise and don’t treat your lawn, you may be lucky and violets will be sprinkled throughout the grass in slightly shaded areas.  Violets have been appreciated for their pretty purple flowers and sweet fragrance for centuries.  Pure essential oil of violets is one of the most expensive flower essences.

As a child, I picked little bouquets, and I still pick blossoms to put on canapés or tiny cupcakes for spring tea parties and to dry for potpourris.  I also use the blooms and leaves in salads.  Cooked leaves are often used as a thickening agent in soups and stews.  The flowers can be made into syrups, candies, tea, and jelly.

Violets are easy-to-grow perennials that are happiest in good soil and dappled sunlight.  Early farmers often observed the violets growing in their pastures as an indicator of soil fertility:  the more abundant the flowers, the better the soil.  Few flowers meant the soil needed amendments.  Violets spread by seed.  The most common color is purple, but white or yellow can also be found.   Here, purple violets are abundant in the lawn behind the potager, while the white and yellow ones are abundant in the adjacent woods.  The violet is the state flower of Wisconsin, Illinois, Rhode Island and New Jersey.

Recent research has found that eating violets greatly reduces tumor formation and the recurrence of many cancers, especially breast cancer.  The Romans made garlands of violets to ease headache or prevent a hangover.  The Greeks made poultices of the leaves for inflamed eyes or bedsores.  Greek women applied violets mixed with goat’s milk to have a beautiful complexion. American colonists made a syrup of violet flowers to ease bronchitis and asthma.

Violets are a symbol of faithfulness and modesty.  Most cultures believed the heart-shaped leaves indicated the plant was beneficial to romance.  Combining violets with a single red rose in a small bouquet expresses never-ending love.  Mythology says that Zeus loved the nymph Io, and to protect her from his jealous wife, he turned her into a white heifer.  Io cried when she had to eat rough grass, so Zeus took pity on her and turned her tears into sweet flowers, violets.  The Greek word “Io” means “violet.”  Some versions of the myth say that the jealous wife, Hera, actually turned Io into a cow, and because Zeus could not turn her back into a nymph, he attempted to make her life as pleasant as possible by giving her a diet of violets.

Violets are a wonderful addition to the herb garden, providing color, Vitamin C, fragrance and flavor from some of the sometimes difficult shadier spots in the garden.  They are a benefit to many insects and a host plant for some species of butterflies.  True violets are sometimes hard to find in garden centers, but their cousins the violas and pansies are common cool weather offerings.  If planned to use for culinary or medicinal purposes, be certain they have not been grown with chemicals, which can not only be harmful to you, but to any pollinators that may visit them.

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